Features

The mother myth

There is no such thing as a full-time mum, and never has been

19 January 2013

19 January 2013

Here she comes again. Back at the top of the news, draped in the robes of the righteous, embraced by those who sanctify all things traditional: the ‘full-time mother’. As usual, she is the undeserved victim of something or other; in this instance, it’s the incoherent shake-up of the child benefit system, leading to headlines declaring that ‘full-time mothers are being penalised’, followed by an implacable wistfulness that war is once again waged against the finer values of a finer past, when women dedicated their whole lives to their children.

The trouble with this lament, much as I hate to spoil the Hovis commercial, is that they did nothing of the kind; nostalgia is a notoriously unreliable witness and in this matter she surpasses herself. There never was such a thing as a full-time mother; she is a recently constructed, absurdly quixotic myth. The full-time mother has never existed for the simple reason that, exempting only the fleeting years of infancy, mothering is not and has never been a full-time job.

Students of social history, together with older persons of fair memory, know this. Long ago, the rich farmed out the job altogether and the poor fitted childcare around the labour in factory or field, frequently conscripting older siblings to mop the bottoms and staunch the runny noses. More recently — here I hark to my own childhood of the Fifties and Sixties — my mother, like most, did not work outside the home. But a full-time mother? She should have been so lucky.

Women like her, in the days for which we affect nostalgia, might properly have been called full-time housekeepers; it was more than anybody’s idea of a full-time job and I tip my hat to those who completed what was routinely expected of them. Washing took an entire day; the house steamed and stank and although our middle-class income allowed — eventually — for a hideous top-loading washing machine, there were still the mangle and the clothes pegs to navigate. And then the rain, so you had to start again… all in time for an evening’s sweat over the spit and hiss of an iron; no poly-fibres then, everything needed a press.

Hoovers? Not them, either; carpets were dragged, by slight and tired women, flung somehow over the washing line and beaten till the dust flew and the women dripped. Freezers? What do you think? And since it was rare indeed for a woman to drive, that meant a daily walk with the string bag to collect each day’s supplies. The ingredients, perhaps, for a cake to be home-baked; shop-bought was rare — and suspiciously poncy, anyway.

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We might complain today that men do not do ‘their fair share’; in my mother’s time, men did nothing. They did not cook, clean, iron or make a bed and the delineation between he who brought home the bacon and she who cooked it was absolute. Her working hours were far longer than his and the tasks, usually, far dirtier. Among the — many — things my own daughter finds inconceivable is that bin-bags had not yet been invented. Bins were daily emptied, washed, and lined with newspaper. And so the list goes on.

But ‘mothering’? Educational toys, bonding exercises, improving visits to museums? Don’t be ridiculous. I thank the gods that my mother never heard phrases like ‘quality time’; certainly we devoutly adhered to the 15 minutes of Watch With Mother — but most days, I swear, those were the only 15 minutes she sat down at all.

Happily for all concerned, not only did women not think mothering was a full-time job but neither did children; our chief role, as we understood well and minded not a jot, was to scarper. To get out from under feet. To be back by teatime. Then, as now, we probably saw the most of our mothers when we were unwell and they had to add nursing to the day’s unwaged labour. As it happens, I was a sickly child for my first few years and my mother put bed-bound days to excellent use by teaching me to read at a precocious age — although she freely admitted, without a hint of conscience (and none needed, Mum), that if I could read by myself it freed up her day for more chores.

Love was boundless; time was not. Adding it up as best I can, I would guess I spent about the same amount of one-on-one time with my mother as my daughter did with me — and I worked, usually ‘full-time’, outside the home.

It is, of course, the people who believe that I was remiss to do so who most delight in wielding the fictional ‘full-time mother’ as a stick with which to beat working mothers. But it won’t do. They didn’t exist, they still don’t. A male friend recently explained that his clever, able wife — who has two teenage sons — was, yes, a ‘full-time mother’. ‘After all,’ he said, ‘she has to do the school run.’ For teenagers? Really? Out loud, the question leapt unbidden: ‘But what does she do all day?’ Went down well, that did.

It was, however, pertinent. No family of four, these days, requires eight hours’ daily maintenance once schooling has started, and it is the devil who makes ‘work’ for the idle hands. These days I write from home, which allows for snooping on the lives of the ‘full-time mothers’ in my neck of the London woods — and my impressions, I must say, do not impress.

Moments after the morning school drop-off, groups of women flutter to the nearest skinny latte. Local nail bars, hairdressers, swimming pools and gyms are profitably occupied by the mother-aged at hours that cannot possibly be lunch breaks from honest toil. Clothes shops are humming when you might expect otherwise — and the women are spending somebody’s hard-earned money, because you can’t afford the prices round my way on unemployment benefit.

You could say, I suppose, that if they are happy and somebody else is happy to indulge them, then leave them all alone; they deserve each other. And so they do. But what these women do not deserve is the accolade, implicit in the ubiquitous headlines and accompanying commentary, that there is virtue in how they live. To use the fact of having once upon a time given birth as an excuse to hang around doing nothing else productive for the rest of your life does not mean you are a full-time mother, let alone a saint; it means you are a lazy mare.

It’s their life and their choice. But when housework — relatively speaking — does itself, when the children are in others’ capable hands, when M&S makes supper and when they can still afford the gym membership, their loss of 20 quid a week in child benefit isn’t going to lose me one heck of a lot of sleep.


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Show comments
  • Christian

    A wife’s household tasks were far harder and dirtier than her husbands! Ha ha! Only in middle class land, try some mining or a few hours in a blast furnace. Do let us know how much easier it is than cooking and cleaning.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Ah Christian, all those miners and chaps at the blast furnace. Even in the fifties most men weren’t doing that. This is pure romanticism. I should say that if the man was, or is,, say, a plumber or an electrician, his job is neither hard nor dirty.

      • Christian

        I know it’s hard to imagine but outside of the south-east men worked, and continue to work, 12 hour days in heavy industry.

        • Fergus Pickering

          But most men. In Manchester? In Leeds? Total bollocks then and now.

          • Christian

            Interesting you choose two northern cities that have been almost completely de-industrialised. What remains of heavy industry is almost entirely concentrated in the north. What do do you think men did for a living in the fifties? Call centres?

          • Fergus Pickering

            I repeat. Most men? You didn’t have those plumbers then. Nor any clerks, teachers, shopkeepers, travellers, barmen. Sentimental nonsense, as |I said, the bane of northerners. What about Preston, Carlisle, Durham, Harrogate, Morecombe? Or don’ these places count.

  • FrankS

    The need for two wages to support and house a family has freed a lot of women from the very possibility of being a full time mother.

    • StephanieJCW

      It’s not “need”, it’s “greed”.

      They want a certain lifestyle. I have friends whose partners earn significantly less than me, yet they live on one income, and make the necessary sacrifices. I can stand the whining of those who wish to stay at home but yet hate the fact their lifestyle will take a hit.

  • Sarah

    I don’t think it’s sensible to use the example of posh people to form a generic opinion. Those lazy mares have other people’s mothers doing their housework and child care like in days of yore. Not quote the same story being a mother of four in other circumstances.

    And can we have less of this “someone’s hard earned money” business?
    A) in all likelihood they are freelance writers working from home.
    B) a single wage belongs to both parties in a marriage.

    • Fergus Pickering

      No need to be a mother of four. Four children seems rather a lot.

  • Anthony Makara

    Some women would rather have a career and make money rather than raise their own children. These women would rather avoid the responsibility that comes with motherhood. To me that is a sign of egocentric behaviour and immaturity. This attitude leaves many children to be raised by proxy, leading to insecurity in the child and creating the potential for resentment as the child grows up without a sense of direction or belonging. Is it any coincidence that anti-social behaviour has soared in the era of breakfast clubs and child-minders? A working mother is an absent mother.

    • Lolima

      “Some women would rather have a career and make money rather than raise their own children.”

      No, some women would rather have a career and make money, AND raise their children. Instead of having to choose between the two. Why is it acceptable for a father to be both a parent and a provider, but it is unacceptable for a mother to do the same?

      “These women would rather avoid the responsibility that comes with motherhood.”

      No, they would rather have the additional responsibility of work, ALONG WITH the responsibility of motherhood.

      This “argument” of yours really makes no sense. Having a career doesn’t magically make your parental responsibilities disappear. You seem to think that having a job means you don’t have to be a parent anymore. That is categorically untrue.

      “To me that is a sign of egocentric behaviour and immaturity.”

      Oh, really? And I suppose you’d say the same about working fathers? Any father who doesn’t stay home all day with his kids is egocentric and immature?

      I mean, really. Egocentric? So it is “egocentric” to want to have a career of your own? It is “egocentric” to want to have a purpose and an identity beyond motherhood? It is “egocentric” to want to do more with your life than just take care of your kids?

      That’s not egocentricity. That’s called being human. Human beings crave purpose. Humans have an innate desire to utilize the skills and talents they were born with to build and create things, and to make a positive contribution to the society they live in. Women are human beings. Thus, women have the same desire to build and create and contribute to society as men do.

      Some women are content to make motherhood and child-rearing their sole contribution to society. Others, however, want to make more of a contribution to society than just raising good kids. What, exactly, is egocentric about that?

      Wanting to make a professional contribution to the world is not egocentric. If it was, then every human being on this earth is egocentric.

      Tell me, do you enjoy working for a living? Would you be sad if people told that you must quit your job and stay home with your kids for the rest of your life? Would you miss your job? Would you feel like there is a gaping hole in your life where your professional work used to be? Are you horrified by the idea of abandoning all of your dreams and ambitions?

      If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then kindly do us a favor and stop spouting nonsense about how women who want to do more than change diapers and vacuum carpets are “immature and egocentric.”

      And what about families where the father does not make enough money to allow the family to live comfortably? Is it “egocentric and immature” for a woman to work so that she and her husband can provide their children with a comfortable life?

      “This attitude leaves many children to be raised by proxy, leading to
      insecurity in the child and creating the potential for resentment”

      It’s pretty ridiculous to complain about school-age children
      being “neglected” when both parents work full-time. Kids typically get
      home from school around 3 or 4 pm. Their parents typically get home
      from work around 6 to 8 pm. This means the children are home without
      their parents for a measly few hours a day.

      Of course not all parents work the same hours, but most working people DO work during the day, when the kids are in school.

      How, exactly, does being without their parents for a few hours a day negatively affect a child? Why do you think that a child will suffer if Mommy isn’t home every minute of every day?

      “Is it any coincidence that anti-social behaviour has soared in the era of breakfast clubs and child-minders?”

      Anti-social behavior has soared? That’s an astoundingly vague and unsupportable statement. You know, simply stating your own biased personal impressions as fact does not actually make them fact.

      “A working mother is an absent mother.”

      Oh ho! Really? And what about a working father? Is he an absent father? It never ceases to amaze me how women who work full-time are demonized for “neglecting” their children, while men who work full-time are lauded for being good providers.

      Again, why is it acceptable for a father to work full-time, but unacceptable for a mother to do the same?

    • Fergus Pickering

      Why doesn’t Dad stay at home instead? Is it too hard for him?

    • StephanieJCW

      “These women would rather avoid the responsibility that comes with motherhood. To me that is a sign of egocentric behaviour and immaturity.”

      Interesting. And men who would rather have a career and make money than raise their own children? Are they also avoiding the responsibility that comes with fatherhood?

      Why is it only women who have to take a career hit. It takes two to make a child.

      A working father is an absent father I take it.

  • SirMortimerPosh

    All true. However; mothers today who are holding down jobs outside the home inevitably have far less time and energy to expend on their children. How could it be otherwise? Half of them are on their own and who else is there to do the housework? Even if there is a man, and if he is not an unreconstructed old time chap sitting in front of the TV with his feet up after work, when is there time to spend on the children? This matter is far more important than the to and fro about who does what in the home. If children are not properly brought up, and that needs intensive work, they will as like as not turn out bad or as underachievers. The idea that a single parent can bring up a decent clutch of children while working a fifty hour week outside the home, while the sprogs run wild, or even just sit in front of a computer or TV after school until exhausted parent comes home at seven o’clock is pretty far from the mark. Just look at some of the problems of anti-social behaviour, knife crime and educational failure that we see in some of our inner cities, where this mode of life is most common. Since about 1970, our society has been slithering down a deadly slope of societal decline.

    • Lolima

      “Just look at some of the problems of anti-social behaviour, knife crime
      and educational failure that we see in some of our inner cities, where
      this mode of life is most common. Since about 1970, our society has been
      slithering down a deadly slope of societal decline.”

      Actually, in both the US and the UK, there has been a general decline in violent crime since the early 1990s, which continues into today.

      Some sociologists theorize that the legalization of abortion (which happened in 1967 in the UK, and 1973 in the US) has been responsible for the overall decline in crime.

      Children who grow up in “broken homes,” mired in poverty, abuse, neglect, and dysfunctional relationships, are the most likely to become criminals.

      When abortion became a legal option, women who would otherwise have brought children into a world of poverty, abuse and neglect, were suddenly able to abort their pregnancies. Thus, a great many of these would-be criminals were never born.

      This is supported by the timeline: the decline in crime began in the early 1990s, precisely when people born circa 1970 (when abortion became legal) were coming of age. An entire generation of criminals was effectively wiped out before they were even born.

      • Ridcully

        “An entire generation of criminals was effectively wiped out before they were even born.”

        Reading that just made my blood run cold. First, the callous pre-judgement of thousands of unborn children and second, the approval of their mass extermination.

        • Lolima

          I wasn’t judging or approving the extermination of anyone (to judge or exterminate someone, they actually have to EXIST first).

          I was explaining a sociological theory. If you find the theory distasteful, that’s your business, but don’t try to pin the blame for it on me.

          • Ridcully

            The purpose of debate is to answer the points made by the other person, not to hypothesise on views that they might hold.
            No matter how you try to spin it, you referred to an entire generation of unborn as “criminals.” If that isn’t pre-judgement then I don’t know what is.

          • Lolima

            “The purpose of debate is to answer the points made by the other person, not to hypothesise on views that they might hold.”

            Yeah. That’s exactly my point. I said that abortion might have been the reason for the overall decline in crime, and instead of responding to the actual THEORY, you decided to respond to what you imagine I think about such a theory. You did this even though I made no remarks whatsoever in regards to my personal opinions.

            “No matter how you try to spin it, you referred to an entire generation of unborn as “criminals.””

            No, I didn’t. I said that, ACCORDING TO THIS THEORY, “an entire generation of criminals was wiped out before they were even born.” Not the same thing.

            If the theory is true, then this is exactly what happened: a great many would-be criminals were not born, because abortion became legal and poor women who were in bad domestic situations were able to abort.

            Am I not allowed to reveal facts and ideas that are unpleasant to think about? That seems to be your “point” here. I brought up an unpleasant idea, you clearly were emotionally impacted by it, and instead of dealing with those emotions, you decided to villainize me for making you think about something unpleasant.

            What, exactly, would you have preferred me to do? Not mention this theory at all, ever, because it is unpleasant to think about? Does that extend to all unpleasant ideas and facts? No one is allowed to speak about an unpleasant idea or fact? And if they do, they must automatically be in favor of it, by virtue of mentioning its existence?

            If I said, “the Nazis killed millions of people, but they also made some important scientific advancements” would you conclude that I think the Nazis were great and all Jews should be exterminated? No. The fact that the Nazis made important contributions to science is unpleasant to think about, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true or should never be spoken about. And it certainly doesn’t mean that anyone who mentions it is a Nazi supporter.

            You’re attempting to blame me for the fact that you find this theory disturbing. Somehow, it is my fault that you had an intense emotional reaction to an idea. It’s absurd.

          • Ridcully

            Of course you’re allowed to refer to facts and ideas that may be considered unpleasant. I never suggested otherwise, and for you to claim that I did is a blatant straw man. However, no matter how many times I read your original post I still come away with the impression that you were implying approval of the “wiping out an entire generation of criminals.”
            Personally (and yes, I’m hypothesising this time) I suspect that you re-read that last line of your original post and realised just how cold it was, and are now furiously trying to row back from it.

          • Lolima

            “However, no matter how many times I read your original post I still come away with the impression that you were implying approval of the “wiping out an entire generation of criminals.””

            Right. And that’s your problem, not mine, because there is no objective, rational reason why you would get that impression.

            Where, exactly, do you infer “approval” in my statement? Be specific.

            “Personally (and yes, I’m hypothesising this time) I suspect that you
            re-read that last line of your original post and realised just how cold
            it was, and are now furiously trying to row back from it.”

            Um, no. I’m getting seriously annoyed because a person is accusing me of advocating the mass-abortion of poor women’s pregnancies, when I never said anything of the sort.

            I don’t think it was cold at all. I think it was neutral and clinically detached, as any scientific statement or discussion ought to be. Because our personal feelings are irrelevant to the facts.

            I was merely stating what the theory IS. Again, if the theory is true, then THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED: an entire generation of criminals was wiped out before they were born.

            How the hell was I supposed to explain this theory, without explaining its basic thesis: that abortion caused an entire generation of criminals to be wiped out before they were born?

            How, exactly, would you have preferred me to say this? How the hell was I supposed to explain a theory about abortion causing would-be criminals to be aborted, without actually SAYING that “abortion caused would-be criminals to be aborted?” It makes no sense.

            You didn’t object to the first way I phrased this thesis: “Thus, a great many of these would-be criminals were never born.” So why are you objecting to the second way I phrased it: “An entire generation of criminals was effectively wiped out before they were even born.”

            Both statements say exactly the same thing, yet you apparently only have a problem with the latter one, because to you it seems “cold.” That’s a totally subjective analysis; you cannot provide any actual REASON for it, other than that it “seems that way” to you.

            Thus, you are judging me by what you imagine I think, not by what I said. If I had said, “Thus, abortion got rid of all those nasty criminal fetuses born to low-class whores,” then you would have valid reason to infer approval and coldness. But I never said anything like that. I made a neutral, clinically detached statement that merely explained what the theory is, without offering any personal opinion whatsoever.

            “Of course you’re allowed to refer to facts and ideas that may be
            considered unpleasant. I never suggested otherwise, and for you to claim that I did is a blatant straw man.”

            Yes, you did suggest otherwise. I stated what the theory entails in a completely neutral way, and you’ve been complaining about it for days now. Since I never made any kind of statements expressing an opinion on the matter, I can only conclude that you have a problem with the theory itself. It’s unpleasant, and you’re villainizing me for making you think about something unpleasant.

            Why you would infer coldness from one neutral statement, but not another, is entirely your problem. Not mine. Why you would infer coldness from ANY neutral statement is your problem, not mine. I’m not responsible for your irrational, emotional reactions to things.

            This is no less silly than calling me a Nazi for saying that, “the Nazis killed millions of people, but they also made some important scientific advancements.”

          • Ridcully

            The reason that anyone posts a comment on a site like this is to express an opinion. It’s not as if you’re writing a thesis for a degree module (although if that is the case, I hope it’s not one where you get negatively marked for exceeding the word limit). Why would you post a completely dispassionate comment on a site like this, one that you claim to have no investment in?

            For myself, the two key words in your final sentence were “wiped out.” Can you really not see how a phrase like that might have connotations? No, you probably can’t (or choose not to).
            Anyway you’re right, this has dragged on for days (as much your doing as mine), and I’m getting as tired of it as you presumably are. You’re obviously determined to maintain that “Hey, I’m only the messenger!” and I remain unconvinced. That’s unlikely to change so this will be my last post on the topic. I wish you well (yes, really).

          • Lolima

            “The reason that anyone posts a comment on a site like this is to express an opinion.”

            You presume to know the reason why anyone and everyone posts their every comment here?

            No, expressing an opinion is not the only reason. Another reason is to engage in a (hopefully) reasoned, intellectual discussion about the topic at hand. To weigh evidence, decide what’s true, and figure out what it means.

            Sometimes you have strong feelings about the topic, and sometimes you don’t. But even when you do, it’s best to try to be as neutral as possible, as to do otherwise can easily blind you to the truth.

            “For myself, the two key words in your final sentence were “wiped out.”
            Can you really not see how a phrase like that might have connotations?
            No, you probably can’t (or choose not to).”

            Yes, I can see how it might have connotations, both positive and negative. Tell me, what’s the connotation here: “More than half the Jews in Europe were wiped out in the Holocaust.” Does it indicate approval of the Jews being “wiped out,” or disapproval? Hard to say, isn’t it? It all depends on how you read the sentence.

            Your objection seems to be — if I understand correctly — that calling them “criminals” gives it a negative connotation, and thus approval of their “wiping out.” But this is not pre-judgment; it’s what the theory says, and it’s the logical extrapolation of known fact: kids born into poverty and social chaos are the most likely to become criminals. Thus, a great many of these aborted children would have been criminals, a lot more than from any other demographic group.

            This is not to say that these kids would have been criminals from birth. Rather, their upbringing would have made them much more likely to turn to crime: the fact that their mothers didn’t want them and were incapable of raising them.

            And this is not to say that every one of these kids would have been criminals. Only that in all probability, a greater proportion of them would have been criminals, as compared to all other demographic groups.

            If a disproportionate number of these kids are criminals now, in the present generation (and have been in past generations) then it is highly probable that a disproportionate number of these kids will be criminals in future generations.

            Again, this is not pre-judgment; it’s the logical extrapolation of known fact.

            Some of these kids would have turned out okay — either in spite of their upbringing, or because they’d be spared from it by adoption into a good home — but a disproportionate number of them would have been criminals.

            So, again, I was merely stating what the theory said, and you attached your own negative connotation to it, either by misunderstanding the theory, or not being able to separate emotion from reason, or both.

            “Why would you post a completely dispassionate comment on a site like this, one that you claim to have no investment in?”

            Why? Because someone said that crime has been on the rise since the 1970s, which is a common misconception. So I pointed out that that is not true, and decided to bring up an interesting sociological theory I’d heard about to explain it.

            It wasn’t to express my opinion; it was to start a discussion about 1) the evidence for and against this theory, and 2) the social implications. I started the discussion by explaining what the theory entails, but it never got any further than that.

            And yes, I know I am ridiculously verbose.

          • Lolima

            Apologies for the duplicate post. Dunno why DISQUS thinks I posted this as a guest.

          • Lolima

            “The reason that anyone posts a comment on a site like this is to express an opinion.”

            You presume to know the reason why anyone and everyone posts their every comment here?

            No, expressing an opinion is not the only reason. Another reason is to engage in a (hopefully) reasoned, intellectual discussion about the topic at hand. To weigh evidence, decide what’s true, and figure out what it means.

            Sometimes you have strong feelings about the topic, and sometimes you don’t. But even when you do, it’s best to try to be as neutral as possible, as to do otherwise can easily blind you to the truth.

            “For myself, the two key words in your final sentence were “wiped out.”
            Can you really not see how a phrase like that might have connotations?
            No, you probably can’t (or choose not to).”

            Yes, I can see how it might have connotations, both positive and negative. Tell me, what’s the connotation here: “More than half the Jews in Europe were wiped out in the Holocaust.” Does it indicate approval of the Jews being “wiped out,” or disapproval? Hard to say, isn’t it? It all depends on how you read the sentence.

            Your objection seems to be — if I understand correctly — that calling them “criminals” gives it a negative connotation, and thus approval of their “wiping out.” But this is not pre-judgment; it’s what the theory says, and it’s the logical extrapolation of known fact: kids born into poverty and social chaos are the most likely to become criminals. Thus, a great many of these aborted children would have been criminals, a lot more than from any other demographic group.

            This is not to say that these kids would have been criminals from birth. Rather, their upbringing would have made them much more likely to turn to crime: the fact that their mothers didn’t want them and were incapable of raising them.

            And this is not to say that every one of these kids would have been criminals. Only that in all probability, a greater proportion of them would have been criminals, as compared to all other demographic groups.

            If a disproportionate number of these kids are criminals now, in the present generation (and have been in past generations) then it is highly probable that a disproportionate number of these kids will be criminals in future generations.

            Again, this is not pre-judgment; it’s the logical extrapolation of known fact.

            Some of these kids would have turned out okay — either in spite of their upbringing, or because they’d be spared from it by adoption into a good home — but a disproportionate number of them would have been criminals.

            So, again, I was merely stating what the theory said, and you attached your own negative connotation to it, either by misunderstanding the theory, or not being able to separate emotion from reason, or both.

            “Why would you post a completely dispassionate comment on a site like this, one that you claim to have no investment in?”

            Why? Because someone said that crime has been on the rise since the 1970s, which is a common misconception. So I pointed out that that is not true, and decided to bring up an interesting sociological theory I’d heard about to explain it.

            It wasn’t to express my opinion; it was to start a discussion about 1) the evidence for and against this theory, and 2) the social implications. I started the discussion by explaining what the theory entails, but it never got any further than that.

            And yes, I know I am ridiculously verbose.

    • StephanieJCW

      ” Half of them are on their own ”

      Half of mothers are single mothers? Really??? And if they are on their own are you arguing that they should then live off the state?

  • Ruth

    I’m amazed she has a house where ‘housework does itself’. Please tell me where I can get one!!

  • Nele Schindler

    Oh I love this, I love this! Thank you!

  • Emma

    What a generalisation! “Full-time mothers” in your neck of the woods may well be ladies who lunch, but that is not indicative of every woman who chooses not to work in order to be around for her children more than would otherwise be possible. A poorly constructed, vastly simplified argument.

  • Karen Fletcher

    I disagree. I always found working much easier than being at home with the kids. Its a v. demanding job which if you do it properly leaves you with no time for yourself, unless of course someone else is doing the shopping, cooking, cleaning, ironing and “mothering”. Does the average man do any of these things?

    • Fergus Pickering

      Ironing? You do ironing? I’ll bet you iron the sheets.

    • white patriarch

      I don’t, I can assure you.

  • http://twitter.com/rach2384 Rachel Childs (Ross)

    There are grains of truth in this article and I do recognise the mothering model described, particularly with older children (though I defy anyone to look after under fives full time and think it’s anything other than bloody hard work!), I sometimes think there’s almost a status attached to the idea of the “SAHM” or in some cases a furious suppressed martyrdom that vents itself on those wicked and “selfish” enough to work. On the other hand, you can sometimes get a rather condescending attitude from those employed mothers who seek to justify their own choices through rubbishing the idea of staying at home with your children.
    As a mother who’s employed a bit, cleans a bit, irons a bit, plays Peppa Pig a bit, visits the zoo a bit and generally tries to juggle it all with some semblance of sanity, I think women are sometimes too judgmental about other’s choices. Most of us exist in the middle -neither a latte drinking, spa visiting, nail grooming parasite nor a hard arsed, 80 hours a week career woman with flint for a heart.
    I think the whole child benefit thing has been a bit of a fiasco due to the inherent unfairness of awarding the money to a family with a joint income of just under 100k, while removing it from families with a sole wage over 50k. I think they should have been braver, scrapped the whole thing and found another way of providing financial support to families in need. Then there wouldn’t be a need for a cat fight over the different family set ups we choose.

  • http://twitter.com/mikelovesmash Mike Love

    Splitting hairs. Fulltime mum is (was) same thing as being fulltime housekeeper/homemaker. My 50s & 60s upbringing had Mum full time at home – amounts to same thing?

    • Fergus Pickering

      Yes, but the point she is making (and it is a good one) is that housekeeping is much easier now than it was then and takes up far less time.

      • Lolima

        Exactly. That is precisely why feminism came along at the time that it did. Before the mid-20th century, housekeeping was a full-time job. Cooking and cleaning took all day. Literally. That is why women stayed home and men went to work. SOMEBODY had to stay home and cook and clean, and it made sense for women to do this, since they were already spending most of their reproductive years at home, either pregnant, recovering from pregnancy, or looking after the little ones.

        Also, women are generally smaller and physically weaker than men, and back in the dawn of humanity, “bringing home the bacon” meant literally just that. Providing for your family meant hunting food for them, a job that men are better suited to, physically at least.

        Technological advancements of the mid-to-late 20th century vastly reduced the time and effort it takes to cook and clean. Housekeeping no longer was a full-time job. This enabled women to pursue work outside the home.

        Thanks to technology, biology no longer needs to determine our roles in society.

  • Grrr8

    A lot of bitterness in the above article for anyone with a different background from the writer. I do think child benefit should be removed for people above a certain income level. The government likely has it right on this one. It also makes sense to award a small state pension to everyone British resident/citizenship who has been here for a while, whether they have worked or not. Call it a resident wage.

  • Sarah Lloyd Parry

    The article presumes that parenting is a mainly physical/mechanical job without granting enough importance to its intangible elements. The formation of the next generation of human beings requires interest in not just their physical needs (although maintaining a safe, clean, healthful environment and monitoring children’s nutrition is tremendously important and worthy of my time and attention) but also their intellectual, moral, and spiritual nourishment. Having an adult present who loves the child and chooses to demonstrate to the child his or her importance by guiding, correcting, and correcting, at least in the years of earliest development (to age 5) is worth so much more than this scornful and insulting article reduces it to. Perhaps mother chooses to work, or perhaps father does, but it is critical to have someone in the child’s life who cares for him or her because they want to, not because they are paid to and will clock off at day’s end. A thousand little choices and priorities and judgements are implied and behaviours modeled daily by the person who is looking after a child. I think most mothers or fathers would like to be the ones guiding their child’s development into adulthood, at least in the earliest years before school, not entrusting it to someone whose own values, opinions, or beliefs may be known or unknown, and shared or not shared by you. Conversations with mother or father, real exchanges of affection, and so much more are not available in institutional care, where there is always a certain distance and “professional concern.” These can only be provided by the parent. Women and men, if you wish to devote yourselves full-time to your children, do not be discouraged by this cynical and myopic article that reduces child raising to mechanical tasks that can be attended to by any hourly employee. Your child’s mind and heart are absolutely worthy of the best of your abilities and efforts. The extra money you might earn with two incomes is not a substitute for yourself.

    • Lolima

      I agree for the most part, but not in your assessment of nannies/babysitters. First, I’m not sure why you’ve referred to it as “institutional care”; the kids are not patients in a hospital, and nannies are not nurses, or even teachers. There is no “professional concern” that prohibits nannies from getting emotionally involved with the kids. Nurses aren’t supposed to get attached to patients, and teachers aren’t supposed to get too close to their students, but nannies are generally encouraged to bond with the kids they’re in charge of.

      Moreover, you’re absolutely wrong that a nanny will never truly care about your child. Just because they won’t do it for free, doesn’t mean they don’t actually care about the kid. After all, this is their profession. Of course they want to be paid. Does a veterinarian care any less about animals because they get paid to provide care? Actually, you could pretty much use that logic for ANY job or profession: “If you REALLY cared about hairdressing, you’d do it for free.” “If you REALLY cared about facilities engineering management, you’d do it for free.”

      A truly great nanny can be very hard to find, but they do exist. They can never replace a parent, but they CAN become an important figure in a child’s life, one they never forget.

  • white patriarch

    To a large extent, women in the modern economy are going out to work in order to pay bills which they wouldn’t have to pay if they were not going out to work. Childcare being the most obvious example. It also costs more for women than men to make themselves respectable looking in white collar jobs: clothes, shoes, hairdos etc.

    The massive increase in house prices since the 80s has been partly driven by women coming into the middle class workforce from the 70s onwards: you don’t need to be Milton Friedman to realise that if a finite amount of housing stock exists, and the amount of money in circulation goes up because of the (historically very recent) phenomonen of the dual income couple where both work full time, the result is house price inflation.

    In the seventies, a three bed semi in London could be had for £15,000 – £20,000 and the average male wage was about £6000. Something of a change in the ratio today! An average male salary (with the wife maybe working part time) could support two or three kids perfectly adequately.

    If we were to go back to the gender working patterns of the sixties, there would be very little unemployment in this country.

    • Lolima

      There would also be a lot less unemployment if we reinstated segregation and Jim Crow laws, and prohibited blacks from having all but the most menial, low-paying jobs. I don’t think any sane person would advocate this idea, either.

      • white patriarch

        Er, segregation and the Jim Crow laws never actually existed in the UK. Also, there was never any law passed in the Uk preventing women going out to work: what a completely irrelevant observation.

        I am not advocating any law preventing women going out to work: I am merely pointing out the downside of em doing so.

        Most working class and lower middle class men go out to work for the same reason working class and lower middle class women do so: because they have to. Germaine Greer and Polly Toynbee and betty friedan and Naomi Wolf and all of the rest of the over privileged bourgy feminists who are mainly where they are because of their inherited wealth and status, and have never done a day;s manual labour in their lives, somehow seem to think that women going out to work is a wonderfully liberating exciting experience: I;ve got news for you: most work is boring, repetitive, uninteresting and soul destroying. The vast majority of men would retire the next day if they won the lottery.

        I have never heard any bourgy feminist demand 50% female participation in garbage collection, or fire fighting, or coal mining (when there were coal miners) or bricklaying, or front line infantry soldiering, or steel working, or labouring in the local sewage farm.

        • Lolima

          “Er, segregation and the Jim Crow laws never actually existed in the UK. ”

          I never said they did. I was just making a comparison.

          “I am not advocating any law preventing women going out to work: I am merely pointing out the downside of em doing so.”

          I didn’t mean to imply that you were. I was merely pointing out that the same reasoning could be applied to any group that has been barred from most of the workforce.

          ” Germaine Greer and Polly Toynbee and betty friedan and Naomi Wolf and all of the rest of the over privileged bourgy feminists who are mainly where they are because of their inherited wealth and status, and have never done a day;s manual labour in their lives, somehow seem to think that women going out to work is a wonderfully liberating exciting experience…”

          Your implication seems to be that it is frivolous for a woman to work by choice, not by necessity. You seem to think that, if a woman doesn’t need to work, then she shouldn’t want to. That’s unrealistic, not to mention class prejudice.

          Working class women always had to do some sort of work to supplement their husband’s income. Middle and upper class women didn’t. Well, so what? That doesn’t mean they didn’t WANT to work. It doesn’t mean they didn’t (or shouldn’t) have professional ambitions.

          For women who had career ambitions but were not allowed to pursue them, work WAS (and IS) a wonderfully liberating experience. You don’t think it’s liberating, to finally be allowed to pursue your professional ambitions, after being prohibited from doing so for centuries? You don’t think it’s liberating to earn your own money, instead of having to rely on your spouse’s money (which he can spend as he sees fit, but you cannot)?

          A career is not just about making money; it’s also about being independent, useful, and productive. If a woman aspires to be a professional dancer, or chef, or academic, or software engineer, astronaut, chemist, race car driver, antiques dealer, politician, doctor, psychiatrist, or whatever, then what does it matter if she is rich or poor? What does it matter if she needs the income or not? Work is about more than just income. It’s also about dreams and ambitions and feelings of accomplishment and self-worth.

          Plenty of wealthy people, male and female, choose to work, even if their family has amassed a huge fortune that makes work entirely unnecessary. This is because humans crave purpose. We all want to be useful, we all want to make a contribution to society.

          If we follow your logic — that women who don’t have to work shouldn’t want to — then why not apply that standard to men too? Michael Bloomberg should not have served 3 terms as Mayor of New York City, because as a billionaire he has no need to work anymore. Bill Gates should stop working too, because clearly he is so rich he doesn’t ever need to work again. After all, if you don’t need to work, then you shouldn’t want to work, right?

          “I;ve got news for you: most work is boring, repetitive, uninteresting and soul destroying.”

          Um, no, it’s not. There are tons of people out there who enjoy working, and find their jobs interesting and rewarding. You really think that most jobs are “boring, repetitive, uninteresting and soul destroying?” If so, then I feel very sorry for you, but you should know that not everyone shares that sentiment.

          I mean, really: “I have news for you; most jobs suck.” You talk as if I am some 13-year-old who’s never had a job. I’m almost 30 years old, so don’t try to tell me what having a job is like. I know what it’s like. I’ve had jobs that I liked and jobs that I hated, but all of them were liberating. All of them gave me a measure of control over my own finances, which, in turn, gave me control over my own life.

          When you rely on someone else’s income, you don’t have control over your finances, and consequently you don’t have control over your life. For example: wife wants children to take music lessons. Husband doesn’t want to spend the money. Husband wins, since it’s his money and thus he has the exclusive right to spend it as he sees fit. This goes for ANYTHING a wife wants to spend money on. If her husband disagrees, she’s sh!t outta luck.

          Effectively, this turns women into children, begging daddy to buy them something or raise their allowance. It strips them of their adulthood and their autonomy.

          Plenty of people enjoy working (both men and women) regardless of what their job is. Simply having a job — any job — that enables you to support yourself will always make you feel better about yourself than having everything handed to you. How many welfare/unemployment recipients are proud of the fact that they can’t earn a living on their own? “None” would be my guess. Not being able to support yourself is a shameful, demoralizing thing.

          I don’t particularly like my current job, but that doesn’t mean I’d rather stay home all day and have a husband pay for my existence. It means I’m looking forward to finding a better job that will be more rewarding to me. I may not like my job, but I definitely like supporting myself.

          True, many people would retire the same day if they won the lottery. Many wouldn’t because they genuinely enjoy what they do, but even the ones who WOULD quit would not necessarily be content to sit around all day doing nothing. Very few people are content to sit around all day doing nothing. Being lazy gets old really quickly. Anyone who’s ever had more than 3 weeks time off in a row can tell you that.

          And for a lot of women, cooking and cleaning gets old really quickly. If a woman has career ambitions, then she is entitled to pursue them regardless of whether or not she needs the income, in the same way that men are entitled to pursue careers even if they do not need to work.

          You’re also forgetting that every middle and upper class woman does not get married at a young age, or at all. A woman should not have to bet on her possible future husband’s earning power. And what, exactly, is she supposed to do while she waits for Prince Charming to come along and provide for her?

          • white patriarch

            “I’m almost 30 years old, so don’t try to tell me what having a job is
            like. I know what it’s like. I’ve had jobs that I liked and jobs that I
            hated, but all of them were liberating”

            Er, yes, but I’ll wager you have never worked as a site labourer, or unloading trucks, or as a night club bouncer, or in a butcher’s shop,or as a kitchen porter. I have. It sucked. I managed to move up the social scale and eventually into a managemt exec job where I had £50K a year and the company car: which was a lot better, but still gave me no sense of interest or vocation or any idea that I was doing anything socially useful. It was just a job.

            I am nearly 50, and have never derived a days satisfaction from any job I have ever done since my teens: if I had been handsome enough to be a gigolo, and had some rich woman to look after me, I woulda jumped at the chance believe me.

            My father was a construction worker. he came home every night and fell asleep from exhaustion. He never once took me to the films, or read a book to me, or out for a walk, or to the playground or had a conversation with me beyond the most basic level: because he was simply too exhausted to do so: his weekends were mainly spent trying to recover his energy for the next tedious, physically exhausting, and highly dangerous five days of labour.

            My mother worked two days a week as a teaching assistant in a nice clean safe indoor environment. I know which I would prefer.

          • Lolima

            “if I had been handsome enough to be a gigolo, and had some rich woman to look after me, I woulda jumped at the chance believe me.”

            You’d be happy to essentially be a prostitute for the rest of your life? No, I doubt that. I don’t know you from Adam, but I doubt that you’d be content to be a professional whore. Not if you have even a shred of self-respect.

            “My father was a construction worker. he came home every night and fell asleep from exhaustion. He never once took me to the films, or read a book to me, or out for a walk, or to the playground or had a conversation with me beyond the most basic level: because he was simply too exhausted to do so: his weekends were mainly spent trying to recover his energy for the next tedious, physically exhausting, and highly dangerous five days of labour.”

            Well, yeah. Being working class sucks. This we know. But do you think your father would have been content to have some rich person support his family, while he stayed home relaxing every day? Somehow, I doubt that, even though I don’t know your father either.

            Even when a man doesn’t like his job, usually he’d still rather work for a living than mooch off of someone else. Again, a job is about more than just income. It’s also about the pride and self-respect that comes from being able to support yourself and your family.

            It’s a bit different for men, since society expects men to provide for themselves and their families. Providing for your family is a large part of “being a man” in society. A man who doesn’t — or can’t — provide for his family is seen as less of a man.

            Women don’t have this burden; it is considered acceptable — desirable, actually — for a woman to be taken care of financially by her husband. But, just because society doesn’t shame women for not providing for their families, doesn’t mean they don’t feel a lack of self-respect from it. Just because society doesn’t expect women to work, doesn’t mean they don’t derive feelings of purpose, usefulness and self-worth from working. And it doesn’t mean they don’t feel worthless and useless by not working.

            If people didn’t naturally have a drive to work, humans wouldn’t have achieved all the astonishing things they’ve achieved. And achievement isn’t just accomplished by an elite group of professionals who were lucky enough to afford an education to learn all the things they needed to learn to have a meaningful professional career. Construction work may be considered a lowly job, but it’s pretty astonishing how a team of construction workers can make a solid, structurally sound skyscraper rise from the ground like a monolithic beast.

            Even if you hate your job, I doubt you’d be happy to live completely on someone else’s dime. It’s pretty hard to respect yourself, when you rely solely on someone else to support you. It’s a bit different for a wife because, by staying home, the implication is that she’s going to have babies and be a homemaker. Having and raising their kids is her job, and ideally, she and her husband share the finances and have equal control over them. Marriage IS a business arrangement, and the traditional arrangement is that the man earns the money, and the woman takes care of the kids and cooks and cleans.

            That is why wives get alimony. The idea is that the woman also worked for her husband’s success: she worked for his success by keeping a clean, comfortable home for him, washing his clothes, cooking and serving his meals, looking after the kids, and just generally making his home life as easy and comfortable as possible, so he can give work his full focus and energy.

            The idea is that husband and wife are business partners, and the success of their family is their business. They each have different roles to fulfill to accomplish this goal, but each role is equally important.

            To just be married to a rich person, without any intention of having children, is a bit different. Then you really are just living off someone else’s money. You don’t bring anything to the relationship, and that makes you a freeloader.

            It’s also a bit different if you win the lottery. Winning a prize is very different than scrounging off others. When you win the lottery, that’s your own money, free and clear. It didn’t come from somebody else, rather, it was luck, or an act of God, depending on how you want to look at it.

            Either way, if you bought the ticket, then you entered into a contract with the lottery commission. When you win, their payment is a simply a fulfillment of the contract that you both entered into knowingly and willfully. It’s a far cry from mooching off someone else’s money. There’s no shame in quitting work because you won the lottery. There IS shame in letting someone else provide for you, instead of providing for yourself.

            “My mother worked two days a week as a teaching assistant in a nice clean safe indoor environment. I know which I would prefer.”
            It seems you are a bit jealous of women, for having the option of being taken care of. That’s understandable. I don’t think any reasonable, intelligent person could look at the world and think that everything’s easy for men and difficult for women. It’s not. Society places unfair expectations and prohibitions onto both women AND men.

            However, being taken care of is not necessarily as great as it sounds. Besides the lack of self-respect, there’s also the grave issue of being under someone else’s control. When someone else provides for you, they have a measure of control over you. Since it’s their money, they can give it to you, or withhold it from you, as they see fit.

            Ideally, any woman could find a kind, loving, respectful husband who will treat her as an equal and share control of the finances. But not all men are so kind, loving, and respectful. And back in the 50s and 60s (when feminism got started) this kind of arrangement was virtually unheard of. Wives did not have equal control over the finances. Rather, their husbands gave them an allowance. They couldn’t spend money on anything their husbands didn’t approve of.

            That’s an enormous amount of control to give over to someone else, and it’s understandable that many women were unhappy with this arrangement. It’s hard to respect yourself when your husband gives you an allowance, just like he gives to the children. For all intents and purposes, you are a child. That’s what being a child is: being dependent, not having autonomy.

            So, women can find someone to take care of them, but then they become subordinate to their husbands and don’t have full control over their lives. Men don’t have the luxury of being taken care of, but as breadwinners they have full control over their finances (and thus, control over their lives and destinies).

            Women are excused from the most dangerous, physically demanding jobs, but the glass ceiling still bars them from the most important, top-level jobs. Men work dangerous, physically demanding jobs, but they don’t have a glass ceiling over their heads that prevents them from advancing beyond a certain point.

            Men are expected to work for a living, while women are expected to be incapable of working jobs that require a high level of skill, talent, and intellect.

            So who’s better off? It’s a subjective question, but IMO, the one who is expected to work, and thought to be competent and capable enough to work, is better off than the one who isn’t expected to work, and is thought to be too stupid and emotionally unstable to do any important work anyway.

            Being a man requires you to find a job to support yourself. Being a housewife requires you to find a man to support you. Is it really any harder to find a decent job, than to find a truly wonderful man who will both provide for you AND treat you as an equal?

            I don’t think so. I think it’s a lot easier to find a decent job to support yourself, than to find a man with a decent job to support you and treat you as an equal partner.

          • StephanieJCW

            I would prefer neither the job of a construction worker nor two days a week as a teaching assistant.

            And if I had children i would prefer we split one income between two of us so we were both able to attend to our careers and our families.And I have far too much self-respect to ever wish to live off my husband’s income.

    • StephanieJCW

      No thanks. I actually like my career.

  • http://twitter.com/nickbw898gmailc Nick BW

    Unlike your experience (and mine covers the same period) mine was quite opposite. My mother gave up teaching to have her family (she may have had ideas of returning to it) five children. She chose not to have an automatic washing machine though we had a spin dryer. She made some of our clothes when we were small.Both parents read to us frequently and we could speak and understand German and some French in our pre school years. There was encouragement for us not to stick to gender related ideas of what we should or could do. Mother died just after I reached 13. Outwardly life didn’t change much we could afford a live in housekeeper. But in reality life as we understood it ceased.She was the emotional center of the family and like most who had grown up in the war years, a great coper. Father worked abroad much of the time and he was bitterly compromised by the need to give this up in order to honour his responsibilities to his children. I believe that life for at least some children was far superior then. Children were not sexualized by society as they are now and materialisum was much less common. In adulthood I have brought up two children largely single handed from infancy. I don’t think it was particularly hard but then I had the benefit of seeing first hand my mother’s parenting. I can say it has been very rewarding. Personally I despise contemporary values which promote the state as provider and nanny and demean motherhood and child rearing. Family and marriage is held in low regard by what has become a decadent and selfish society.

  • Sara Perring

    I disagree with so many of the assumptions and arguments in this article that I was actually inspired to write a blog post http://wp.me/p1VHl1-8j. Whilst I agree that the title full-time Mum is misleading, my reasons are different to Carol’s.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kristen.h.murray Kristen Helfrecht Murray

    I am ashamed that a venerable publication such as The Spectator would publish this tripe. The author offers nothing but personal history and local observation coupled with class resentment of the worst kind. She is blessed enough to have children AND be able to work from home but heaps scorn on everyone else. Stay-at-Home moms, like myself, are a dying breed but study after study has shown that having an adult family member in the home is profoundly beneficial for children from zero to eighteen. http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/stay-at-home-mom-benefit-kids.htm What right does this person have to judge how others live? And her laughable assumption that all stay-at-home, non-working mothers gad about town as ladies-who-lunch shows exactly how narrow her little bubble is.

    • StephanieJCW

      “re a dying breed but study after study has shown that having an adult family member in the home is profoundly beneficial for children from zero to eighteen.”

      From zero to 18? To 18? How on earth is a 15 year old at school benefitting from an adult at home? Also where are these studies that have shown such a thing?

      Either way, it’s your choice. I can’t imagine mooching off someone for 18 years. I left my parent’s home to be independent. Not find another provider.

  • D Short

    Wby is a high-priced and supposedly high-minded literary and political weekly publishing this type of rentafeminist filler article by this kind of bothersome female hack which can be read for a lot more money in the Mail or the Guardian? Is Sarler an old mate of Andrew ‘Brillo Pad’ Neil? She is certainly not the generation of the young people who edit and write for the Spectator.

  • D Short

    Whoops, ‘a lot less money’?

  • http://twitter.com/TrevonPMuhammad Trevon Muhammad

    This article is true to a certain extent. A lot of mothers pretend to be “full-time” when in fact they do little or nothing. However, think about this. Imagine a mother who home-schools her children, cooks,cleans and looks after her husband. That is a full-time mother and we need more of them.

    Problem is we think that sending children to useless public schools then clothing and feeding them is real parenting. That’s the reason why “Generation Y & Z” are so destroyed today.

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